Men who stare

We really like it when attention in the media is given to the pervasiveness of street harassment. And while we don't discourage public conversation about the issue, we wonder about the true effectiveness our message.

Consider the article, Men who stare, that appeared Friday in the Guardian. While we applaud Abby O'Reilly for writing the piece and starting her own new blog on the topic (don't look don't touch), we're a little miffed about how these stories keep being rewritten, asking the same questions again and again, providing no solution and inadvertently encouraging further cyclical flaming in comment sections (which is not necessarily the fault of the authors). While explaining her own background with gendered harassment, O'Reilly asks the standard questions: is this a symptom of patriarchal culture? is it threatening if it's funny? how do you fight back and remain safe? are men victims too? And while O'Reilly is a clear writer who highlights very important points, I wish every article on the topic didn't end so similarly:
But will public humiliation and shaming help to eradicate this problem? Or do we need to take a grassroots approach, providing greater education at school level to permanently remove the need to grab, grope and leer from the male psyche? Can we help initiate change, or is that something confined to the male realm? Whatever the case, all I can say with certainty is that the next time I'm followed on the tube or accosted in the street by a random man I'll make sure my distaste is well and truly registered.
It can be hard to list action steps without seeming to blame the victim or recommend what may be inappropriate in some situations. Women are often accused of attacking one another, and offering suggestions to some may offend others. But I wish by now, with street harassment being covered in the news now for quite some time, we could speak more proactively about how to protect ourselves, as well as educate men and equalize public space.

The problem is that no matter what women write, they will be criticized for explaining their experiences, often with the mocking responses of "that's your issue, not mine." O'Reilly followed up on her blog, and her post is refreshingly honest. She discusses how unsettling the comments on her article made her feel, and she lays out her points in more detail in with more clarity than is sometimes forced by a news article or opinion piece.

Ultimately, one of the things to be appreciated about the article is O'Reilly's distinction between harassment and pitiful men everywhere. While we're not ones to let folks off the hook simply because "they don't know better," we also encourage women to talk about what feels legitimately threatening and what doesn't, and then be ready to respond accordingly, including action steps to holla back and keep themselves safe in threatening situations. And while some of her writing frustrates us, that doesn't mean we don't agree with or fully support O'Reilly's aim. Every woman who speaks her truth is one less silent victim.

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